A Happy Hello!
A week away yielded many recipes and a few tales to regal you with for the next several days! But first I must thank Christine for being such a great blog-sitter! I do have one complaint though…Why haven’t I ever been invited over for pancakes?!? For shame!
Well now, the only thing that remains is to decide which of the eight lovely new recipes I conjured up at my super secret getaway location (and during my very brief visit to my family’s farmhouse on the way back) to post to get this party started. What are you in the mood for? Savory? Sweet? A little of both? That sounds about right. I think I’ll start with the Baked Winter Squash & Pesto Gratin.
Oh ho ho, no recipe for you just yet! First I’ll make you read all about my little trip. I’m one of those people that take a thousand pictures on a trip and then make everyone at home sit through a tearfully boring slideshow just because I loves me a captive audience! Squirm all you want, but you’re going to have to just sit there and take it.
So my super secret getaway was in a rustic little cabin along the banks of a charming creek tumbling through mountains of fall colors. In a word – picturesque. Oh, you’re wondering why this is such a super secret getaway spot? Well now, if I told you all the details, you’d go book up all the cabins and I won’t get in next year. And since this little getaway (okay, you twisted my arm…here’s a teeny hint: it’s in Sullivan County, PA) is becoming an annual tradition, I can’t have that!
When I got there this year, I was tickled pink to find that Cabin #1, my little home-away-from-home, had gotten a brand new stove! Now, you haven’t really seen my stove at home, but suffice to say it’s probably as old as my house, which dates back to the time of servants quarters and outhouses. A new stove seemed so serendipitous since I had decided to make this trip into a “blog cooking retreat”, applying myself to two new recipes a day to work at my leisure between breaks on the front porch for yoga and staring into space.
New stove aside, the cabin had very little else to offer in the way of kitchen amenities so I had to pack up all my home kitchen’s wares and truck them along with me. If ever you’re in a similar situation (rustic cabin or tent even), might I suggest you employ the same techniques I did? Take a big bucket with you for washing dishes at your site instead of trekking back and forth between the public washing station and your temporary abode. And for any recipes calling for dry ingredients, measure them out and combine them into one clearly labeled baggie so you don’t have to cart the whole 10 pound bag of flour along with you. It is good to take an extra cup of flour and of sugar along with you though, just in case. Thus dutifully organized, I was inspired by the tidy shelves and new stove to cook like a fiend and yet feel quite relaxed (except for the night the mouse stopped by to chew through my baggie of extra flour).
A fun little side adventure while at the super secret getaway was a stop at the Flaming Foliage Crafts Festival. Talk about your wholesome country fun! I particularly enjoyed the local country store’s stand with its bulk spices and the handmade fun “castanets” oven mitts I bought. I also bought some roasted peanuts that I thought would be fun treats for any squirrelly types at the cabin, but alas, I hadn’t a solitary squirrelly visitor the whole time I was there.
I also had a great time playing with my new (ok, I’ve had it a month but I’m still getting the hang of it) camera, a Cannon Digital Rebel XTi. Taking photos of food in the cabin was a real challenge – lighting was poor and lots of dark wood were soaking up what little there was. There’s a noticeable “look” to these cabin recipes; I’m calling it “charmingly rustic”.
Alright, I suppose I should stop digressing and get on to the stuff you came here for in the first place. The original recipe for Baked Squash Gratin was okay… but it was much better after some serious adjustments. Embracing the lore of salty and sweet together in a dish, I was lucky enough to get a sweet “dessert” (a.k.a, kabocha/japanese) squash from Flat Rock Farm, another urban agriculture enterprise here in Philly, to use in contrast to the salty flavors of the pesto and parmesan cheese.
While this was a decently flavorful side dish, I’m at a loss for why Giada, maven of Italian cuisine and daringly low-cut tops, included it in her “Sinful Vegetables” episode. It’s pretty darn healthy and really not all the rich. In any case, it’s worth a try for a change of pace as we lumber into the winter squash season.
Baked Winter Squash and Pesto Gratin
Adapted from Everyday Italian
1 large (about 3 lbs.) kabocha or other winter squash
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan
1/3 c. sorrel almond pesto or regular basil pesto
Freshly ground nutmeg and/or cinnamon, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fill a large pot with 3 cups of water and bring to a boil. Add the squash and simmer over medium heat until the squash is very tender, about 20 minutes. Using an immersion or regular blender, blend squash until smooth and creamy. Season the squash with some nutmeg and a generous pinch of salt and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and lightly butter/spray an 8-inch baking dish. Spoon half of the squash into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Scoop half of the pesto all over the squash in the dish. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the squash. Repeat layering with the remaining squash, pesto, and cheese. Bake in oven until the gratin is heated through and golden brown around the edges, about 40 minutes. Serve immediately.
(serves 6-8 as a side)